Monday, July 23, 2012

Schools paying for free net material

According to "Schools pay millions for material free on net" (Kim Arlington, SMH, 23 July 2012), the Australian education system is paying copyright fees for materials from the Internet for use in schools, even when the authors intended the material to be freely available.
'SCHOOLS are paying millions of dollars to use freely available internet resources under ''draconian'' copyright laws that have failed to keep pace with digital learning.

Schools spend almost $56 million a year under a compulsory licence to copy material such as books and journals without permission from the copyright owner. But an unintended consequence of the licence means schools also pay millions for internet material that the website owners never intended to charge for, according to the National Copyright Unit, which provides specialist copyright advice to the schools and TAFE sector. ...'
The problem seems to be that the Copyright Agency Limited, and similar bodies, which collect royalties on behalf of authors, assume the author wanted royalties, unless they have said otherwise. So if a web page doesn't say its if free, then a fee is charged. However, this fee is rarely given to the author (as most do not expect, or want, it). The policy needs to be changed so royalties are collected where it is clear the author wanted them. Schools could also lower costs by educating teachers on use of materials and by using intelligent tools which advise on copyright.

One why in which schools could avoid much of the cost is by more use of the Internet, not less. Course designers and teachers can be trained to refer to Internet based materials, rather than copying them. The teacher can place a link in their notes to the document, which the student then clicks on to get the document. If the student then reads the document at home, it is never loaded on the school's computer and so a copyright fee is avoided. This also reduces the size of the course notes and makes them simple.

Teachers can refer students straight to a relevant section by using a named anchor in a web page, or a specific page in PDF. Also teachers can budget the number of documents and amount they ask students to read.

Using links also helps educate teachers and students on e-literacy. Teachers worry that the link may "break", that is the document has moved when the student goes to get it. But coping with that is part of e-literacy. Each time I run a course I have to check each link. When one breaks I hunt down the new location, or if the document is no longer available I find an archive copy at the National Library of Australia "Pandora Archive" or the "Internet Archive".

Using links would also make materials easier to read. Recently I was undertaking an on-line course at an Australian university. The university had a "digital library" where reading material was provided. Unfortunately much of this material was hard to read, as it had been scanned in from paper copies of papers and transferred in hard to read electronic formats. The university would have to pay copyright fees on this material. However, I found it so hard to use that I gave up using it and instead sought out the original materials on the web, which in many cases were freely available is an easier to read format. The university could have saved itself money and the students a lot of trouble, simply by providing a link to the materials on the web.

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